Vauxhall wants in on the fast diesel family hatch party. Instead of defaulting to VW Golf GTD or the Skoda Octavia vRS, Luton aims to woo you with this: the new Astra BiTurbo.
Is the Vauxhall Astra BiTurbo the thinking man's VXR?
In more ways than one, yes. It's available as a commodious five-door, unlike the three-door ‘coupe’-only VXR. It also looks less lairy (dare we say childish), though still hornier than a cooking Astra, thanks to a jawline squarer than David Coulthard's and a rear bumper with a diffuser element and large chrome exhaust tips. It’s a pity that the tacked on side skirts look so aftermarket though.
It's also cheaper than the 276bhp VXR, to the tune of £3160. And by running on diesel, the Astra BiTurbo's eco-manifesto is predictably superior to that of any petrol hot hatch. Vauxhall claims up to 55.4mpg, and 134g/km. The £26,220 VW Golf GTD trumps those numbers by such a galling margin, it’s almost unfair to mention it (67.3mpg and 109g/km).
But does the Astra BiTurbo actually go like a hot hatch?
The figures look promising – not least because this is most powerful diesel hot hatch of the current crop. An Octavia vRS TDI manages a piffling 182bhp/280lb ft, as does the Golf GTD. Of course, because the VW Group’s last hope, the Seat Leon FR, uses the same engine as the Skoda and VW, it too is soundly whupped by the Griffin-badged car. How does 192bhp and 295lb ft grab you, chaps?
That torque figure is what makes this Astra ‘hot’, though, but the healthy slab of pulling power is only at hand between 1750-2500rpm, meaning the Astra BiTurbo doesn't vacuum up the horizon with quite the appetite you might hope. It feels fastest on the motorway in cruise mode, where in fifth and sixth gears, a mere flex of the alloy-trimmed throttle piles on momentum relentlessly, making opportune overtakes a cinch. All told, our test car averaged 35.1mpg. Well, it is a hot hatch.
Is the Astra BiTurbo actually fun to drive?
Like the rest of the regular Astra range, the BiTurbo errs towards solidity, rather than playfulness. The ridiculously overstuffed steering wheel telegraphs nothing in the way of front-end response, which is a pity given how well the BiTurbo shrugs off bumpy British roads and applies its twist-and-go urge.
The Astra doesn't particularly shrink around its driver at speed, in the same manner as the similarly twin-turbocharged Mazda 3 2.2D. We're more on the GT side of warm hatchery here. Your cross-country pace comes from diesely shove, not B-road deftness.
Twenty-four grand for a diesel Astra?
Indeed – you could have a mid-spec Ford Focus ST for that money, albeit with fuel consumption to rival Concorde's. The BiTurbo has a few holes in its spec too: while buyers do get well-bolstered two-tone sports seats, cruise control, six airbags and heated electric mirrors, there are no auto-lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, heated seats or parking sensors. Our test car did get DAB radio, sat-nav, Bluetooth and LED running lights – and a £25,730 tag to match.
If those are indeed necessary titbits for your family hatch, you can of course chalk them up as optional extras, by which time Vauxhall's devilish derv knocks on Golf GTD money, which looks like a far more premium object both inside and out.
How to sum up the Vauxhall Astra BiTurbo? It's a handsome, addictively punchy and undeniably practical, spacious family mover. It’s also not that much more expensive than a well-specced Astra with a ‘normal’ diesel engine. The 1.7-litre CRTI SRi (that’s enough letters, thanks) Astra costs £22,765 – with a much wider performance gap than the £1335 price difference suggests.
Question is, does the Astra BiTurbo feel £1335 more exciting to drive down your favourite back road? Almost certainly not. If you like your hot hatches to drink from the black pump, the British-built Astra is certainly fleet of foot enough to warrant a look, but with stronger, fresher rivals like the new Seat Leon FR to contend with, it’s not a done deal.